Search engine optimization is an ever-changing field, and given how secretive the search engines are about their algorithms, it’s one that’s prone to myths and half-truths being blown out of proportion by well-meaning webmasters.
So today, let’s clear the air and separate the facts from the fiction when it comes to search engine optimization. The following are 25 of the biggest SEO myths out there, along with explanations of why they’ve been debunked:
Myths about on-page optimization
- Meta tags matter – Honestly, meta tags might still play some teeny, tiny role in how your site ranks, but the effect is so small that it’s not even worth optimizing these tags. Even the description tag – long considered to be a holdout amongst meta tags – isn’t always used as the Google snippet, so skip the extra work here.
- Targeting a specific keyword density helps your rankings – Any article that tells you to target 2.5% (or 5%, or 10%…) keyword density is lying to you. Including keywords in your content helps the search engine spiders understand what your site is about, but there’s no single target density that will help your site get ranked.
- Keyword and link stuffing works – Guess what? 1999 called, and they want their SEO strategies back! If you’re still stuffing your meta tags or inline content with keywords and links designed to boost your rankings, stop. Just stop.
- The search engines can’t read CSS files – Thought you could get away with stuffing your CSS files full of fake div tags? Think again, as the search engines can and do read these files. Spamming text here is treated the same way as it is anywhere else on your site.
- Optimizing your “Home” links with target keywords will improve your rankings – Sorry to burst your bubble again, but SEOMoz found that the anchor text of your “Home” links is usually ignored.
Site-wide SEO myths
- Great content always ranks well – Writing good content helps, but inbound links still win out as the most powerful SEO technique. Great content paired with authority backlinks, on the other hand, is a recipe for winning!
- Exact match domain names are a must – A simple look at any SERP will tell you that there are plenty of other sites beating out their exact match domain competitors. In fact, most experts believe that the importance of exact match domains as a ranking factor will decrease significantly compared to the use of social signals.
- Posting an XML sitemap will increase your rankings – Yes, an XML sitemap helps the search engine spiders to navigate your site easily and index all of your content, but its presence – in and of itself – isn’t a ranking factor.
- All of your pages should end in “.html” – Really, this has never mattered to search engine optimization. Structure your permalinks however you want, as long as your target keywords make an appearance in the page’s file name.
- Toolbar PageRank is the same as actual PageRank – Actual PageRank is updated constantly, while toolbar PageRank is only changed intermittently, making it notoriously out of date and unfit to base major SEO decisions off of.
Frequently heard SEO myths about backlinking
- More links are always better – Nope (Chuck Testa). I’ll take one relevant, high quality PR4 backlink over 1,000 spam links any day.
- Paying for links will get your site penalized – Yes, certain paid links can give your site a black mark, but think about sites like the DMoz directory or the Yahoo directory. Both of these sites require payment to participate, but their effects on SEO are positive.
- Only high PageRank links are valuable – High PageRank links are awesome, but Google knows that sites attract more than just PR4-PR9 links. Balance your link building efforts to include lower PR links as well to form a more natural-looking link profile.
- Backlinks must be relevant to count – Relevant links are great, but there’s some dispute as to how well the search engines are able to define relevancy. Although it’s a good idea to solicit links from sites in the same general category as your own, you don’t need to be competing on the same keywords for the link to be a good fit.
- No-follow links don’t count – Although sites that send you no-follow backlinks might not pass on any link juice, they’re definitely still counted and factored into the search engine ranking algorithms.
General search engine optimization myths
- SEO is a one-time project – There’s no “set it and forget it” Rotisserie Magic” here. SEO is an ongoing task that requires constant upkeep as techniques change. Anyone who tells you that he “finished the SEO” on his site is sadly misinformed.
- Personalized search has killed traditional SEO – Although personalized search has the potential to bump sites out of their traditional ranking spots, not all search phrases are affected and those that are don’t seem to be showing significant changes – which means it’s business as usual for most SEOs.
- What works for one site can be applied universally – Just because you got your kid’s baseball team’s site ranked in Google five years ago doesn’t mean you’re qualified to help multinational corporations spruce up their SEO. Every site brings different factors to the table, which requires a separate set of SEO tools.
- It’s possible to “game” Google – Google hires some of the smartest engineers and web developers out there, so do you really think you’re going to be able to sneak something as obvious as a linkwheel or reciprocal link past them?
- Google is the only search engine you should optimize for – Yes, Google has a monopoly on the search space, but all indications point to Youtube and Bing gaining traction as search properties. Be sure to show them a little love as well when it comes to your SEO campaigns.
Myths commonly held by SEO agencies
- “Our agency is endorsed by Google…” – Although there are certifications for Google’s Adsense and Adwords program, Google itself doesn’t explicitly endorse any SEO agencies.
- “We guarantee top placement in the SERPs…” – Sorry, but unless you’re talking about top placement in the sponsored search (where you can pay to have your site featured), there’s no way to guarantee a Top 3 placement in the results pages. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
- “The success of our project will be defined by a high PageRank for your site…” – Having a high PageRank is nice, but objectively, it doesn’t do anything for your site. Focusing on achieving high rankings in multiple SERPs to drive natural search traffic
- “You’ll see results quickly…” – Technically, it’s possible. Depending on the competitiveness of your search terms, you might see fast results with SEO. However, for most projects, anticipate at least a month to start to see results from an SEO plan – maybe much, much longer if you’re going after a tough keyword.
- “We’ll submit your site to the search engines…” – The myth here is that submitting sites to the search engines is necessary, which hasn’t been the case in years. These days, the search engines will find your site through backlinks. Anyone telling you that this is an important feature of an SEO plan is selling you a load of BS.
Have you fallen victim to any of these SEO myths before? Or do you have another SEO myth you’d like to address? Share your thoughts below in the comments!